Helping REALTORS® and Communities Embrace Diversity
Shaleen Young was born in Guam but was raised in Washington, D.C. She served in the military and came from a strong military family. Despite her successes as broker/owner of Young Realty & Associates in Matthews, N.C., Young feels discrimination wherever she turns.
“I feel like it happens to me every time I step into a room or open my mouth,” she says. “I feel that my words are thought about twice before considered. I feel like this is because of the way I look, or perhaps because I look young or because of the color of my skin. Maybe, it is a bit of paranoia, but that feeling is there.”
Those feelings of being persecuted, prejudiced against or completely invisible to others because of a myriad of reasons hurt, humiliate and hinder people. That’s why diversity and inclusion have become top priorities of NC REALTORS®, and why we created the Mosaic campaign. Eliminating discrimination in the housing world, whether you are a buyer, seller, real estate agent, renter or community member, is part of the Mosaic. So is showcasing the diversity of NC REALTORS® members and their commitment to the REALTOR® Code of Ethics. Another piece: a big event October 8 at the Crowne Plaza Executive Park in Charlotte. The Mosaic | Discussions on Diversity event will encourage conversations on diversity and inclusion and inspire attendees to work together to be ambassadors of social change.
All of this was inspired by the mission of the diversity committee, of which Young is the chair. This year, they are reaching out throughout the state to listen, present the Mosaic campaign and offer help to local REALTOR® associations.
“I hope that the diversity committee will help bridge the gaps between people, that we will see more local associations having the diversity conversation, that we will see more diversity committees starting within the local associations and that diversity will no longer be a touchy subject but one that is embraced,” Young adds.
What the diversity committee is all about
The diversity committee at NC REALTORS® develops programs and recommends policies to help manage risk when it comes to housing discrimination. They also help provide equal professional services to everyone.
“The topic of diversity is in the news a lot more these days, and a lot of organizations and companies are doing diversity training,” says Amy Kemp, member engagement assistant for NC REALTORS®. She serves as a liaison to the diversity committee, along with Keri Epps-Rashad, director of business development. Companies such as Sephora and Starbucks recently closed their stores for a day or a few hours to train all their employees on diversity.
In North Carolina, many of the local REALTOR® boards operate in very rural areas, where you don’t see diversity committees or diverse members on the committees at all.
“We want to get into those areas and make them feel important and part of their associations and committees,” says Epps-Rashad. “It’s kind of heartfelt and warm when the local association executive in a rural area comes to us and tells us they need help. We are just igniting the conversation.”
NC REALTORS® is offering tools, tips and experiences that can help the local associations to start their own diversity path and create awareness. The committee adopted a mission statement this spring to further its cause: “Our goal is to promote REALTOR® voices in an inclusionary manner that reflects its members, local communities and statewide diversity opportunities and initiatives.”
What diversity committee members are learning
For three weeks, diversity committee member Adam Upchurch traveled to all 47 REALTOR® associations across the state to listen and educate on diversity.
“Some associations felt as though this is too sensitive of a topic and were worried to take that next step,” he explains. “They didn’t know if it would backfire on them in the community.”
Some associations had already established full-fledged diversity committees. But the most common theme he discovered was they just didn’t know where to start. The state committee is offering their expertise and investigating what funds, materials or other resources might be needed to help them move forward by next year.
Upchurch, who owns Marvel Realty Group in Wilmington, also serves as president of Topsail Island Association of REALTORS®.
“My association has 150 white members. But the reality is that every member has a very different background. They didn’t all grow up in Topsail Island,” he says. “People use the eye test and say, ‘We aren’t diverse.’ It doesn’t work that way.”
Diversity is about all kinds of things in people’s lives from their culture to gender identity to race to religion. Upchurch attended four different high schools in four different cities across the state. He was treated as an outcast in many of the cliques but was welcomed in other social circles. Every place possessed different cultures, ethnicities and lifestyles.
“It created situations for me to learn to adapt to whatever situation I was in. I look back at it today and feel that it was a really good thing for me in business and in life,” he says. “I feel like it helped me understand people’s different perspectives.”
Being born and raised in Barranquilla, Columbia, Patsy Irvin has a mixed heritage from Scottish, German, Italian and more.
“The only thing I have Hispanic is that I was born in Columbia,” says Irvin, now REALTOR®/broker at Weichert Realtors PMI Group in Gastonia.
She studied abroad in Paris and Spain, and for a few years, she served as an ambassador for Columbia in San Francisco.
“Even though I’ve lived all over the world and met people from all cultures, as a REALTOR® I get to see different people from different parts of the world live right here. We are all unique and great in our own way,” she says.
When people discriminate, she believes it’s totally about ignorance. They haven’t experienced others fully and listened to their stories.
“How dull the world would be with just classical music. We should think that way culturally. Everybody in the world has their own food, music, thoughts and talents,” she explains.
Irvin has witnessed her clients be discriminated against. One Hispanic man’s landlord promised him if he stayed in the trailer, it would be his one day.
“That didn’t happen. People take advantage of people that can’t defend themselves. That breaks my heart,” she says.
Going beyond the Code of Ethics
Another piece of the Mosaic is that REALTORS® abide by a Code of Ethics, which states:
REALTORS® shall not deny equal professional services to any person for reasons of race, color, religion, sex, handicap, familial status, national origin, sexual orientation, or gender identity. REALTORS® shall not be parties to any plan or agreement to discriminate against a person or persons on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, handicap, familial status, national origin, sexual orientation, or gender identity.
“The REALTORS® were pretty forward-looking in their recognition of classes of people who belong to federally protected classes, but also for members and consumers who belong to discriminated against groups of people who are not yet federally protected,” says NC REALTORS® CEO Andrea Bushnell. “I think it is imperative that we continue to press forward and ensure that we recognize and support these protections that are built into the Code of Ethics.”
She’s not sure that all members are aware of these protections or even in agreement with the protections, but “they are bound by the Code of Ethics to protect these groups who are often discriminated against regardless. Ignorance of these provisions of the Code of Ethics is simply not an excuse and willfully ignoring these provisions is actionable,” Bushnell says.
“What I see in the state or even the world shows me that embracing diversity is needed more than ever,” Young says. “That we as people are not as progressive as we should be. I see through comments to one another that if understanding and accepting diversity were priorities, we would be kinder.”
Lee Nelson is a freelance journalist from the Chicago area. She has written for Yahoo! Homes, TravelNursing.org, MyMortgageInsider.com, and REALTOR® Magazine. She also writes a bi-monthly blog on Unigo.com.